Category Archives: 1 star and a half

Captive Heart phoebe conn

Historical Romance Review: Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn

historical romance review
Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn
Rating: one-half-stars
Published: 1985
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Lovegram
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Medieval Romance, Viking Romance
Pages: 526
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn, a Zebra Lovegram historical romance novel.

The Plot

Captive Heart takes place at an undetermined point in history. It is here that Celiese d’Loganville is a slave to Olgerthe Torvald, the pampered daughter of Raktor Torvald, a brutal Viking warlord.

As the book begins, Aldread Valdahl, whose family hates the Torvalds, offers a truce to Raktor. Aldread’s son, Mylan, will marry Olgerethe and end the feud between the families.

Olgerethe refuses to go along with the plan; she will not marry Mylan due to his being disfigured after a fight with a bear. She convinces Celiese to marry Mylan in her place.

When Celiese meets Mylan, she discovers, despite his disfigurement, that he is a very handsome man. They soon marry and enjoy their wedding night.

The next day, however, Raktor tries to kill the couple.

Mylan believes that Celiese knew of the pending attack and grows to hate her. This leads to Mylan spending the next part of the book emotionally and mentally abusing Celiese, calling her his slave, among other derogatory statements. He does offer Celiese a lifeline, however, telling her that if she kills the bear that maimed him, he will set her free. Celiese sets out to do just that, although she doesn’t actually end the bear’s life–Mylan does–she does wound the bear, and Mylan sets her free.

Celiese goes back to Mylan’s family, but this creates further problems. One of Mylan’s younger brothers, Hagen, is in love/lust with Celiese, and later, one of Olgerethe’s brothers, Oluf, tries to rape Celiese. Mylan kills him, but with the other Torvald brothers vowing revenge–and his own father helping them–Mylan and Celiese head to France.

Upon arriving in France, Celiese discovers her mother, Marie, is alive. Their reunion doesn’t go well, however, when Marie discovers that Celiese is married to Mylan, a hated Viking. Celiese plans to get her family’s land back from the Danish invader Hrolf, now known as Robert, who obtained the land from King Charles. Celiese’s plan does not go well.

After being imprisoned by Robert, Mylan rescues her. He does so by claiming to renounce his Danish heritage, agreeing to become a Christian, and marrying Celiese again. This second marriage, however, does not solve all of the issues between them.

By the end of the book, both Celiese and Mylan realize that they do love each other and put those feelings into words that help them find their Happily Ever After.

The Upside

Celiese. She endures unspeakable cruelty from virtually all the males in her life, but she remains strong. That’s a great quality to have.

The Downside

For the first third of the book, Mylan is a total bastard. He inflicts intentional emotional and mental cruelty upon Celiese. Yes, she lied to him in the beginning, but that doesn’t justify his treatment of her.

Most of the time, Celiese doesn’t think through her actions, leading her to get into difficult and sometimes dangerous situations

With the exception of Celiese’s stablehand, Andre, there isn’t a likable male in Captive Heart.

Sex

The love scenes in Captive Heart are more about the emotions of the act than the esoterics.

Violence

It is mentioned that Celiese was treated brutally by Raktor and his sons. Later, Celiese is assaulted several times. The violence described is not graphic.

Bottom Line on Captive Heart

Phoebe Conn’s take on “Beauty and the Beast” is far from classic. Captive Heart is somewhere around a 1-star book.

Rating Report Card
Plot
1
Characters
1
Writing
1.5
Chemistry
2
Fun Factor
1
Cover
4
Overall: 1.8

Synopsis

BOUND BY PLEASURE
Celiese, the lovely slave girl, gasped when her betrothed emerged from the shadows. She had been secretly sent in her mistress’s place to wed the much-feared Mylan. But instead of the cruel savage she had expected, he was a magnificently handsome warrior. His cool topaz gaze unnerved her. The fire in his touch sent shivers of unfamiliar desire down her spine. And the sweet madness of his burning kiss as he trapped her within an iron embrace made her forget her past, abandon all reason, and surrender herself–if only for one night–to the pleasures of passion’s fire.

BRANDED BY PASSION
Mylan stared in astonishment at the woman before him. Instead of the spoiled, pampered innocent he had expected, she was a radiant silver-blonde beauty. The hot flush of her cheeks disarmed him; the flame in the emerald depths of her eyes aroused him. Gathering her into his arms, he silenced her startled protest with a slow, wanton kiss and awakened her supple flesh with tender, searching caresses. He would teach her the secrets of passion, take her to ecstasy’s searing heights, and forever possess her Captive Heart.

Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn

***

CATEGORIES: , , , , , , ,
a breath of scandal mason

Historical Romance Review: A Breath of Scandal by Connie Mason

book review
A Breath of Scandal by Connie Mason
Rating: one-half-stars
Published: 2001
Illustrator: TBD
Book Series: Sin Trilogy #2
Published by: Avon
Genres: Georgian Era Romance, Historical Romance
Pages: 372
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: A Breath of Scandal by Connie Mason

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Having read a few Connie Mason books in the past and (more or less) entertained by them, I picked up A Breath of Scandal expecting some ahistorical yet sexy, romantic fun. Sadly, except for the wallpaper Georgian background, the second book in her “Sin Trilogy” series lacked all those standard Mason elements.

Chock-full of my most hated pet peeves, I should’ve put this book down when the hero raised the ire of my inner Ron Swanson by vehemently proclaiming that smugglers were cheating the Crown and the English government out of their right to collect taxes on French wine.

Not a good sign of things to come.

The Hero and the Set Up

Julian, Earl of Mansfield, is known as the Scorpion (pet peeves number 2 and 3: English nobleman is a spy, plus an animal alias for extra lameness), and he’s posing undercover to catch the evil smuggler, the Jackal (there’s another stupid animal codename).

The Jackal tried to kill Julian years earlier but instead killed Julian’s pregnant fiancée.

Julian vowed revenge for the only woman he ever cared for (pet peeve number 4: the hero is obsessed whis ith dead lover throughout the entire book, so much so that he cannot acknowledge his feelings for the heroine).

A Breath of Scandal by Connie Mason
A Breath of Scandal, Connie Mason, Avon, 2001, cover artist TBD

The Plot

Julian, the Spy Lord and Lara, the Gypsy Lady

A Breath of Scandal begins with Julian on a mission. His identity is exposed and he is shot by the Jackal’s men. Julian jumps off a boat and washes ashore, to be discovered by some traveling gypsies.

Mason stretches the bounds of credibility here when Julian is found by lovely Lady Lara, the illegitimate daughter of a gypsy and an English Earl, who first knew of her father’s identity when her mother died.

She showed up on her father’s doorstep at age 13. He accepted her and made her legitimate. Now she spends most of the year with her father but is allowed to spend summers with her Gypsy family before settling down with an English husband.

Other than caravans and the word “gadjo” for an outsider, it doesn’t appear as if Mason did any real research on Roma people, but as I said, this is wallpaper historical at its worst.

A Forced Marriage

Lara is drawn to the stranger and helps heal him back to health. In a twist of events, Julian and Lara are married in typical gypsy wedding fashion. (?) Lara declares Julian is her husband three times in front of men who are pursuing Julian, and Julian doesn’t deny it.

With his black hair (another pet peeve–it’s nit-picky and shallow, I know–his hair doesn’t match the reddish-brown hair on the back cover) and walnut-stained skin Julian pretends to be a gypsy while his wounds heal.

Meanwhile, he takes advantage of his marriage to Lara by banging her and banging her and banging her some more.

He doesn’t consider his marriage to Lara binding because she’s only a gypsy after all. He hides his true identity from his “wife” and is known solely as Drago. And, of course, Lara doesn’t tell him that she is the half-English daughter of an Earl.

Julian goes on and on about how he is an honorable man. What’s that saying about how a man with honor doesn’t call himself one? Well, that applies to Julian as his repeated actions belie his claims. Such a shame because I like stuffed-shirt, uptight heroes and was expecting Julian to be rigidly noble. Alas, he was just a lame-ass loser.

Scandalous Secrets Revealed in A Breath of Scandal

Eventually, Julian leaves Lara to go back to his home in England. Lara is headed there as well to enter society and find a husband. Lara’s fortune-telling grandmother predicts that she will not see Drago in England.

Of course, she does see him; not as Drago, but in his true form as Julian, Lord Mansfield. Upon realizing Lara is the daughter of an Earl, Julian’s supposed honor kicks in, and he vows to marry Lara for real. (Because gypsies don’t deserve respect even if they save your life! [That is sarcasm, in case your detector is broken.])

The Jerky Hero

Julian does all he can to convince her into matrimony. This consists of:

  • Compromising Lara in a carriage in a public park
  • Accusing her father of being the nefarious Jackal
  • Putting her in danger several times
  • Absconding with Lara to Scotland and leaving her Daddy a note
  • All this while having as much sex with Lara as he can and telling her he doesn’t love her, will probably never love her due to the pain of losing his fiancée.

Honorable man indeed.

The worst is when he hides in the woods like a coward while Lara and her family convince the Jackal’s henchmen that Julian isn’t there. Some hero.

Another pet peeve of mine rears its head as Lara declares emphatically that if Julian does not love her, she won’t marry him. But she’ll keep on sleeping with him, cuz he’s too irresistible!

Final Analysis of A Breath of Scandal

To be fair, the first 100 pages of A Breath of Scandal were okay. Connie Mason has an erotic way with love scenes. I was on board to give it a 3-star rating, as there was a Lindsey-like vibe that appealed to my bad taste.

Unfortunately, this was a 400-page book, and the story went in circles for the last 300 pages. There were glaring errors that were hard to ignore.

When Julian and Lara meet up with her gypsy family, Lara’s grandmother happily exclaims, “I told you that you’d meet Drago again!” No, she had said the freaking opposite!

For an Avon paperback, this was riddled with errors galore. What were the highly-paid New York editors smoking? In 2001, it was probably mass-produced BC bud.

Julian is referred to as Lord Manchester a few times… but he’s Lord Mansfield!

Plus, the anachronisms were painful to deal with.

If a story has charm, appealing characters, or an engaging WTF vibe, I can overlook bad history, but when there are none of those qualities present, then I just can’t enjoy the ride. Sorry, A Breath of Scandal.

1.74 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
1
Characters
1
Writing
1.5
Chemistry
3
Fun Factor
1.5
Cover
3
Overall: 1.8

Synopsis

She claimed him as her husband without even knowing his name. Now she will risk everything to keep his secret—but can she give her heart without having his love in return?

Lord Julian Thornton, Earl of Mansfield by day and secret agent of the crown by night, has sworn never to love another woman. But then a mission goes wrong, and Julian is left for dead, his only hope a seductively mysterious gypsy woman named Lara. And when she marries him under gypsy law for his own protection, Julian is too entranced with the dark beauty to deny himself the benefits of their marriage.

Yet even as he longs for their idyllic interlude to last, Julian knows his presence alone puts her very life in danger. Until he discovers Lara in the one place he never expected to see his wild gypsy enchantress…the one place where he isn’t sure he can protect her—or his own heart.

From the moment Lady Lara, half-gypsy daughter of the Earl of Stanhope, finds a wounded stranger washed up on Scotland’s rugged shore, she knows their destinies will be forever entangled. So when a band of smugglers comes looking for the dashing stranger, Lara doesn’t hesitate to claim him as her husband “Drago.”

But when her mysterious husband goes back to his own world—and its dark secrets—Lara returns to her father to take her place as his heiress…never expecting to find her Drago across the earl’s crowded ballroom. And although he still enthralls her, Lara is determined that she will never truly be his wife until he surrenders his heart as well. 

A Breath of Scandal by Connie Mason
Dark Before the Rising Sun

Historical Romance Review: Dark Before the Rising Sun by Laurie McBain

Synopsis:

A LADY’S PLIGHT
Lady Rhea Claire Dominick, fair and flawlessly beautiful daughter of a Duke, was stolen from her father’s house — and shipped to the Colonies as a slave.

A CAPTAIN’S DARING
Dante Leighton, who squandered a Marquis’ inheritance in his dissolute youth, pursued his fortune at sea — and found his destiny in the amethyst eyes of a fascinating woman.

A STORM OF DESIRE
They sailed the West Indian isles, discovering fabulous riches… and the raptures of a love more precious than treasure. On a secluded shore, in an idyll apart from the world, they surrendered themselves to ecstasy. But on returning to England, their joy was beset by a tempest of scandal, spite and murderous peril — which was the end of their happiness, or the dark before the radiance of their love…. 

DARK BEFORE THE RISING SUN by LAURIE McBAIN

SNOOZE ALERT ⚠

Great Title, Beautiful Cover, Too Bad About the Book

Dark Before the Rising Sun is the last installment in Laurie McBain‘s trilogy that began with Moonstruck Madness. This is a direct continuation of that book’s sequel, Chance the Winds of Fortune. I am breaking my rule for reviewing books that I have didn’t fully read, as I made it fairly far into this book and then skimmed to the end. Yes, it was that bad.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if it had been combined with the first book, and halved by length.

The Plot

As I said in my review of Chance the Winds of Fortune, the second and third books combine for over 1000 pages. In the previous installment, the pride and joy of the Dominic family, the eldest daughter Rhea Claire was kidnapped. Events led her to be an unwilling passenger on a ship sailing the Caribbean, captained by Dante Leighton, former English Marquis turned pirate. Rhea charmed the pants off of the ship’s men, metaphorically speaking for the crew, but literally speaking of Captain Dante. Rhea and Dante found treasure and true love.

Now the pair have returned to England so Dante can regain his title as the Marquis of Jacobi, and his beloved, Rhea Claire, daughter of Moonstruck Madness‘ Sabrina and Lucien, can let her parents know she’s alive and well.

After reading the soporific precursor to this book, I found myself looking at another 500 pages to complete their stupid, boring love story. Why? I don’t know. What was the point? Rhea’s dad doesn’t like Dominic. Society still looks down at Dante. Rhea and Dominic are united in their love for one another as they head to Dante’s estate of Merdraco to re-establish his place as the rightful Marquis. There’s a nasty villain who wants to destroy Dante.

There’s Rhea acting cute as always: “Let’s meet my great family and they’ll help get your titles and estates restored now that you’re not a pirate anymore. I love you, darling. Aren’t we so wonderfully dull?”

And Dante reveals his dirty little secret: “Years ago, I once saw your mother at a party when I was a young man and had a crush on her.” That’s like a .05 on a scale of 1-100 for old-school romance craziness!

Final Analysis of Dark Before the Rising Sun

I suppose to really enjoy this book, you had to love the prior novel, and I didn’t. So I was destined to hate this one.

Dark Before the Rising Sun has a largely positive consensus in reviews I’ve seen online. I guess most people who read this far into the trilogy, do genuinely love it. Not me, the eternal contrarian.

I keep these books only for the covers, but as far as re-reading them, life’s too short!

1.5 Stars

the treacherous heart gignilliat

Historical Romance Review: The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie

historical romance review
The Treacherous Heart Rating: one-star
Published: 1980
Illustrator: Elaine Gignilliat
Published by: Fawcett
Genres: Historical Romance, Regency Era Romance
Pages: 286
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie is a tale of a Gaelic, black-haired, fiery-spirited lass forced by circumstances to become a thief to provide for her family, only to be thwarted by an arrogant, scar-faced, golden-haired Duke…

Don’t Tell Me You’ve Heard This One Before!

Hmm. Where have I heard this plot before? Oh yes, Laurie McBain‘s Moonstruck Madness!

Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. If you remove all the intelligent writing, the interesting side characters, and the sexual chemistry between the leads from McBain’s book, we have this dull, meandering read.

Except for Jennifer Blake, I’ve come to find that Fawcett-published romances were rarely ever excellent, and this dud is another to put in the slush pile.

The Plot

The Treacherous Heart begins one day in Lancashire, England. Some drunken soldiers looking for excitement come upon the house of the Avory family. They ransack the home, kill the dog, the Irish-born widow Lady Delilah, and her young son before raping the teenage daughter.

The eldest sister and heroine, Raven, was not in residence while this occurred. She arrived only in time to witness the aftermath of her home’s destruction. So Raven flees with her sister Crystal to London to find comfort with relatives.

While her relations are suitably affluent, Raven and Christie find their financial circumstances are tenuous at best. A greedy land manager’s mishandling of their estate has left them destitute.

Raven enters Society, going to balls while escorted by her adoring cousin Wesley, who is gaga over her. At a masquerade, she meets the Duke of Dorchester, Eric Draquewall, our hero, who is predictably cold and arrogant. The duke glares at Raven and then insults her, but to his shock, her response is to laugh in his face, causing the duke to vow that he’ll teach the haughty chit a lesson!

Responsible for her convalescing younger sister and reliant upon the charity of relatives, Raven decides she’s too good to marry a wealthy chinless wonder. Within mere pages (by page 35), she decides to be a thief. She steals jewels and precious items from the gentry who welcomed her into their homes.

Soon, tales of the audacious jewel thief make the rounds. The burglar is given the moniker “The Black Cat.” (Get it? The heroine is named Raven and has black hair and green eyes, just like a black cat! Just like a cat burglar. And nobody even knew. Does that blow your mind, or what?)

The Romance

Jealous of Raven’s close relationship with her male cousin, the handsome Duke of Dorchester hires an investigator to find out if they’re secret lovers.

By page 60, he finds information that proves Raven is behind the jewel-napping antics. Dorchester could reveal her secret.

However, as Eric is attracted to Raven–what do you think that glaring and insulting was all about? That’s how these old-school romance heroes showed how much they liked a girl–he decides to blackmail her into being his mistress.

Or his wife.

Or mistress. Eric’s not really sure. All he knows is whatever Raven’s got under her velvety skirts, he wants in on that.

Raven finds that she responds to Eric’s caresses, despite her initial distaste towards any physical touch.

Raven was so disturbed by the brutality perpetrated upon her sister that she vowed no man would ever touch her.

Ironically, Crystal, the one who was violated, had an easy time finding healing through romantic and physical love. Okay, people react differently to trauma. Perhaps in the hands of a nuanced author, Raven’s survivor’s-guilt aversion to sex would have been a compelling part of her character. Alas, it isn’t. It’s just a plot contrivance to keep the hero and heroine from getting together. Circumstances occur mechanically here, without any flavor.

It Keeps Going and Going and Going…

And so Eric and Raven engage in a cat-and-mouse-will-they-or-won’t-they game for a few more pages.

Eric befriends Raven’s sister, showing he’s a nice guy. Eric’s mother thinks Raven would make the perfect wife for Eric. Raven resists the thought of marriage to this wealthy, handsome, friendly, attractive Duke because… Reasons?

When cousin Wesley finds out that Eric has been less than honorable with Raven, he challenges the Duke to a duel. Wesley is wounded in the swordfight, Eric gets scarred, and later Raven’s sister gets married. Then Eric sweeps Raven off to his estate, declaring his love for her before they finally get it on.

But Raven can’t be with Eric, because remember reasons!

So she flees to America to mooch off other family members, and The Treacherous Heart is only halfway through, and… OMG, make it stop!

Eric follows Raven to America, blah, blah, blah, a possible other woman makes an appearance, blah, blah, blah, Eric and Raven reunite, blah, blah, blah, villain seeks revenge, blah, blah, blah, happy ending.

Final Analysis of The Treacherous Heart

Events happened in Angela Alexie’s The Treacherous Heart. Characters engaged in dialogue, and time passed on, yet it was so dull.

All the pieces were in place, but the story was lifeless, like a dead frog connected to a car battery by jumper cables. Turn the ignition all you want; there’s just no spark here, no animation.

When boring writing is combined with a drawn-out, pale imitation of a superior work, it makes for a 1 star read. In this case, as I do appreciate the Elaine Gignilliat cover, I’ll give this sucker approximately one-and-a-half stars.

Rating Report Card
Plot
1
Characters
1
Writing
1
Chemistry
1
Fun Factor
0.5
Cover
4
Overall: 1.4

1.74 Stars


Synopsis

The lady was a thief, the gentleman was a rogue. Their stormy romance defied propriety with a daring covenant of love.
Dire circumstances had left the beautiful young Lady Raven Avory bereft of family and funds. A desperate situation demanded a desperate remedy, and so she began stealing small jewels from the wealthy who had welcomed her as a guest.

She had not counted on being caught at her game, especially not by the handsome Duke of Dorchester. Suddenly she found herself forced into his debt, into his arms, into a star-crossed affair that would sweep her into a whirlwind of tangled hearts and the most brazen ecstasies of love.

The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie
tangled hearts ross crouse

Category Romance Review: Tangled Hearts by JoAnn Ross

category romance
Tangled Hearts by JoAnn Ross
Rating: one-half-stars
Published: 1990
Illustrator: Daniel Crouse
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Temptation #333
Published by: Harlequin
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback, eBook
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Category Romance Review: Tangled Hearts by JoAnn Ross

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

I have to give it to JoAnn Ross for her book Tangled Hearts, in that she tried to do something unique for a category romance novel. It’s just unfortunate for me that I didn’t like where she went with it.

The cover of this Halequin Temptation tells it all, pretty much. There’s a couple engaged in a sexy embrace while in the background is a black-and-white image of a lone man.

The Plot

Alanna Cantrell got married to Mitch Cantrell six years ago. Their whirlwind courtship was passionate and thrilling. But soon afterward, terrorists captured Mitch, a journalist, who was taken hostage and presumed killed.

Over the years Alanna has picked up the pieces of her life. By the time the story opens, she’s seeing Jonas Harte, a staid, steady, predictable kind of guy, certainly not the type to gallivant off to war-torn countries for the thrill of reporting a story. Just as Alanna and Jonas are about to announce their engagement, who should turn up from the dead, but Mitch, Alanna’s husband?

Through flashbacks we are shown how Mitch and Alanna met and see their brief time together before his disappearance. This was the first category romance I recall where the heroine slept with two different men (albeit one in the past and the other in the present).

Although shocked to see Mitch, Alanna’s happy he’s alive, but not necessarily happy he’s back in her life. Alanna claims she’s content with Jonas, an architect, as he’s not the type to ever do anything outrageous and dangerous. Back in her youth, a wild man like Mitch appealed to her. Now that she’s older, she needs a more solid type.

The Two Men

Jonas overhears Alanna complimenting him for his “boring’ qualities and seeks to prove that, in his own way, he’s just as adventurous and passionate as her ex. He is determined to win her over.

Mitch hopes desperately to resume his relationship with his wife, shocked that he’s returned to a much different woman than he remembered.

In the end, too many years have passed for Alanna and Mitch to bridge the gap. Alanna has changed, and so has Mitch, but they didn’t do it together, so they are too far apart to be together once more.

I felt so bad for Mitch, who spent years in captivity, with only his thoughts of Alanna to bring him hope and comfort. When he’s finally released and runs home to meet his wife, a woman who has been more of a fantasy in his mind than substantive reality, she’s moved on.

Final Analysis of Tangled Hearts

I just never warmed up to Jonas, who was sort of milquetoast for my tastes. He was a nice guy but dull. So I think Alanna got with the wrong hero. However, there was a sequel to this book, Tangled Lives, where Mitch met a woman more in tune with his lifestyle.

Again, I appreciated the love triangle aspect of Tangled Hearts, where the two men vying for the heroine’s love are both fundamentally decent people. But I’ve seen this done better in other romances and couldn’t help but feel that poor Mitch got a bad break. My “hated it” rating is a bit harsh, but this romance left a sour taste in my mouth, which I’ve never forgotten.

Rating Report Card
Plot
1
Characters
1
Writing
3
Chemistry
2
Fun Factor
0.5
Cover
2.5
Overall: 1.7

Synopsis

Torn between two lovers

On the eve of her engagement to Jonas Harte, Alanna Cantrell received a most unexpected present the return of her husband, Mitch Cantrell. Six years ago, the dashing foreign correspondent had swept her off her feet. Then Mitch was kidnapped by terrorists and presumed executed. Slowly and painfully Alanna had built a new life for herself.

Mitch wanted his life back… including his wife. Visions of his beautiful bride had sustained him through his captivity. He loved Alanna and swore not to lose her again.

Jonas loved the woman Alanna was now, but could he fight her memories? Jonas vowed to prove that he was the right man. He was determined to win Alanna again!

TANGLED HEARTS BY JOANN ROSS
come back to me catherine george

Category Romance Review: Come Back to Me by Catherine George

Synopsis:

Julia’s new job was a step up in her career

She was personal assistant to the autocratic Marcus Lang. That hadn’t been Julia’s main objective when she started–though she’d gone to a great deal of trouble to get the position.

She had plans for Marcus Lang–and especially for his brother, Garrett-and once she’d achieved her aims she didn’t think she’d be staying long with Lang Holdings.

Marcus was a difficult, demanding employer, but gradually Julia had to admit that she found him attractive. Too bad that he was the one man she couldn’t let herself fall in love with.

COME BACK TO ME by CATHERINE GEORGE

The Book

Catherine George is a category romance author who rarely disappoints. Sadly, Come Back to Me is one of those rare occasions.

The Plot

The plot centers around revenge, a trope I usually enjoy. However, the execution in this book… It’s quite odd. The heroine’s sister had a one-night stand with a married man and became impregnated. The sister dies and then Julia, our heroine, is forced to care for the baby. Mistakenly, she believes it’s the hero Marcus’s happily married brother who slept with and then abandoned her sister.

So Julia plots the lamest revenge ever conceived. Oh, she’ll get back at that man for his evil deeds. How? By putting herself through school and learning to be the most efficient secretary ever hired by a corporation. She’ll deal with the hero’s clients, organize his social calendar, and capably smooth over his troubles until he becomes so reliant on her, then she’ll somehow inveigle her way into the hero’s family and ruin the brother.

How’s that supposed to work? Will she quit, forcing Marcus to run after her, offer her a raise, and declare that he’s never had an assistant as competent as she and damn his brother to hell on top of that?

Or will Julia just let her bizarre revenge plot disintegrate as she falls in love with the actual man who fathered her dead sister’s child after a drunken night of misplaced passion? Yup, that’s more like it.

Big old spoiler here: Marcus Lang, the hero of this book, had sex with the heroine’s sister, not knowing she was a virgin–heck, he didn’t even know who she was–and a baby resulted from that night. He was drunk and mistook her for another woman.

Final Analysis of Come Back to Me

Yuck. Worst revenge plan ever! Sorry, there are some places in romance where it’s too weird for me to delve into, and sloppy seconds from sister to another sister is one of them. I’m a hypocrite here, I admit because I enjoy a good love triangle romance where two brothers butt heads over the same woman, but even this was too far.

If you’re looking for an angsty revenge story in the Harlequin Presents line, just read Sally Wentworth.

Oh, and that cover is terrible. That hot-pink dress with off-the-shoulder ruffles screams 1983 prom night.

1.5 Stars

shattered dreams len goldberg

Category Romance Review: Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth

Synopsis:

His love was only an illusion

On her wedding day, Kate felt how miraculous was to truly love and beloved. As Hugo’s wife, she knew the rest of her life would be blessed

Then Kate overheard her husband’s grim plan for their future together–a plan of revenge against Kate! Desperately hurt and afraid of the stranger who was her husband, she ran away to Majorca, to heal her broken heart in safety and solitude

But she underestimated the power of Hugo’s will and the compulsion that drove him to reclaim her–for better, or for worse!

Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth

The Book

Sally Wentworth‘s Shattered Dreams is terrible, for all the wrong reasons. It’s extremely violent, although I’ve read books where far worse events occur to the heroine. Take the bodice ripper great Stormfire, for example.

However, in this Harlequin Presents what the hero does to the heroine seems more repulsive perhaps due to its condensed nature.

Where thick historical romances like Stormfire have 400-500+ pages to deal with insane villainous heroes and their co-dependent heroines, a category romance is limited to 60,000-70,000 words. The craziness level can only be ratcheted up so far before the hero becomes irredeemable.

The Crazy Setup

Sally Wentworth always wrote very well, her prose attentive and skillful, but this was truly bizarre. Kate is happy as a bride can be on her wedding day, as she’s marrying Hugo, the man she loves. Little does she know what her marriage holds in store for her. For Hugo has had a private detective tailing his nubile young wife, and he’s found out startling information: over the past year, she’s been living with some strange man while playing the wealthy Hugo for a fool!

Of course, this strange man is not Kate’s lover; it’s her wayward half-brother, whom Hugo knows nothing about because people in these sorts of books don’t act like normal human beings on planet Earth do, speaking to each other through words.

The Crazy Plot

When Hugo first met Kate, he pursued her for a strictly sexual affair, going as far as offering her money. Kate rebuffed his initial attempts. Only when Hugo changed his tune, treating her with respect, did she acquiesce to date him.

She did not, however, sleep with him. So Hugo holds his new wife captive.

He thought she was stringing him along to sink her hooks into his total fortune. Hugo believed Kate had been cheating for months, and worst of all, that she lied about being a virgin.

The Villain Hero and the Virgin Heroine

Of course, she is a virgin, but he accuses her of being the sluttiest-slut-who-ever-did-slut. Honestly, I think Hugo was turned on by the idea… The problem was he was disgusted at himself for being turned on, so he took his aggression out on the victim, er heroine.

Hugo keeps her imprisoned, haranguing her about her slattern ways, and at one point is so enraged by Kate’s supposed infidelity that he holds her head underwater in an attempt to drown her!

Kate is not a willing victim and fights back, trying to escape several times by climbing out windows or attempting to contact friends for help. At every turn, though,

Hugo is able to prevent her from fleeing. Finally, when it seems Hugo is showing some signs of remorse, that he’s willing to accept Kate as she is, a money-hungry, cheating tramp, Kate reveals the truth. The other man is her brother, and she’s still as untouched as last year’s Christmas fruit cake.

Final Analysis of Shattered Dreams

While well-written and oddly engrossing, with a crazed villain hero Shattered Dreams is missing a critical piece in a romance novel: any semblance of romance!

There is no communication, only accusations, abuse, torture, stubbornness, pride, and outright stupidity. If Wentworth had included some inkling of love and affection between the two characters, some sort of true contrition on Hugo’s part, or shown a process of healing, perhaps the story could have been salvaged.

Readers, do not take this book seriously, but if you do, take it as a cautionary tale.

The virgin heroine, the villain-as-the-hero, the big misunderstanding, all the Harlequin tropes are here. Sally Wentworth’s The Judas Kiss is one of my favorite Harlequin Presents. (I will add a review for that one soon). Unfortunately, Shattered Dreams is on the other side of the spectrum. 

1 1/2 Stars

texas princess blake

Historical Romance Review: Texas Princess by Veronica Blake

Texas Princess, Veronica Blake, Zebra, 1992, Robert Sabin cover art

1 1/2 Stars

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Princess of Which State?

As usual, the folks at Zebra were just slapping generic titles onto these books! Only a tiny portion of Veronica Blake’s Texas Princess takes place in Texas. The hero and heroine travel across the western US, and they only get to the Lonestar State at the tail end of the book.

My main recollection of this tepid romance is while reading, I kept wondering: “When do they get to Texas? The book’s almost over. What about Texas?” Not a good sign. The editors could have gone with something like Gypsy Princess (although perhaps in today’s environment, that would be seen as insensitive), Emerald Princess, or Forbidden Passions. I checked & no other romance novels had those titles.

As for the book itself?

Sad to say that Texas Princess was a forgettable Heartfire. Tasmin, the eponymous Texas princess who is not actually royalty from America’s 28th state, is betrothed to the leader of her Roma tribe. He’s a kind and handsome man. However, she falls for a gadjo cowboy drifter, Blayde (I think that was his name) instead.

He watches her intently as she dances by a fire. Tasmin feels Blayde’s gaze upon her. She is drawn to this strange man, even though it spells her damnation.

Passion ensues.

Because of her forbidden passion, Tasmin is banished from all that is familiar to her. The hero has his inner demons to battle and isn’t looking for commitment. Destiny ties them together as he and Tasmin trek through the West. Tasmin & Blayde only have each other for support, yet can these two people from differing backgrounds make true love work?

Not for nothing, but this is a standard romance novel, so what else do you think is going to happen?

Final Analysis of Texas Princess

Dull, dull book. I love Zebra romances in general, but on an individual level, a lot of them were unremarkable. I’ll give this one an extra half star because I like the cover.

Rapture's rebel

Historical Romance Review: Rapture’s Rebel by Iris Bancroft

Rapture’s Rebel, Iris Bancroft, Pinnacle, 1980, cover artist unknown

From the back of the book:

Torn between her desires for a Russian colonel and a dashing lieutenant in the Swedish army, Kirsten is swept by savage destiny into the raging lusts of a revolution… Against the tumultuous background of the Northern War of 1710 is woven the enthralling saga of a tempestuous woman forced to choose between her impassioned loyalty and the ecstasy of forbidden love.

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

1 1/2 stars

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

The Book

Rapture’s Rebel by Iris Bancroft is the first non-Viking historical romance set in Scandinavia that I’ve read. The blurb made it sound so exciting. Alas…

I HATE being let down by books that seem to have promise, but end with a lifeless whimper. Bodice rippers set in Russia are my siren song! This should have rocked!

The Plot

Russian soldiers have taken over a town in Sweden and Kirsten hides in a hot sauna for protection. Stupid Kirsten lets a little kitty in there with her and he dies, the poor thing! Well, maybe not so poor. Kitty’s pain is over, but mine was still to come as I had this turkey of a book to finish.

The heroine is a twa– er twit. There’s a rapacious older Russian (basically Rod Steiger in Dr. Zhivago) who makes her his. Too bad he’s a dud in bed!

Kirsten is, of course, so irresistible that men cannot help themselves! She gets to sleep with three different men within three consecutive days (both willingly and not). That is a pretty good bodice ripper count.

Kirsten’s lucky, though, she’s got hot blond guys galore following her. The hero, Viotto, isn’t as bland as they tend to be in these bodice rippers. Lamentably, he’s missing-in-action for most of the book.

As it often does, the setup started out decently enough. There was a war going on and there are three men who desire Kirsten. The two men searching for her, Viotto and Knut, are the only ones worth reading about. The one she hangs on to for most of the book is an utter ass.

Kirsten wasn’t a genius to begin with, and only turned into a greater bleeding fool as the story went on! Why in the world did she march INTO Russia to find the old man who violated her? She thinks is a nice guy who will care for her, but in reality, he’s actually a gross, creepy, rapist!

This Was Not Fun

War is hell! As Kirsten heads east to Russia. this book takes a turn for the worse and gets really rapey, and not in a crazy, fantasy, bodice-ripper way. Women and children are brutally raped to death by Russian soldiers, prisoners of war are starved, and people freeze to death on their way to Russian enslavement. I was looking for some escapist fun, and this realism was a huge buzzkill.

Two great rivals for Kirsten’s love who spend more time together and have more chemistry with EACH OTHER than the heroine has with either of them? Plus, she spends maybe 40-60 pages tops with both of them, while the rest of the book is marching into Russia or getting raped by “Daddy!”

And on the last page, Kirsten reunites with her “true love,” Viotto, whom she met, for what a day or two?

Final Analysis of Rapture’s Rebel

If that’s the kind of bodice ripper you’re going to write, it has to be meaty and fun. This wasn’t.

While the competition between Kirsten’s other men neared a bloody battle, Kirsten was nowhere to be found as unfortunately, those interesting characters had almost no interaction with Kristen.

One woman, three men who love her, and this dumb twatwaffle, Kirsten, initially went for the very old Russian general who she said treated her like a daughter, then turned around to brutally rape and beat her. Even when he was not violent, his “lovemaking” was terrible (yuck)… And she forgave this loser because he was like her daddy? Who thinks like this?

I wonder if Iris Bancroft was a pseudonym for a male author. Not that male romance writers can’t write thoughtful, entertaining romances, but this was a Pinnacle-published book from the early 1980s, and they, like Playboy Press, had a slew of male authors who wrote unromantic books that somehow became bestsellers because the public was hungry for historical romance back then.

So disappointed about this one.